Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Wonderful Night for Oscars?

Another year, another Academy Award ceremony. I've seen the show twice - once at an industry function where I won The Fog of War on DVD for correctly answering a trivia question (answer: Jack Nicholson), and a second time at a friend's get together later in the evening, such are the "benefits" of time zones meaning it airs live at Midday - and actually quite liked it. Certainly much better than last years, but not as classy as the Bill Condon/Hugh Jackman year, which I look more fondly at as each year goes by. Let's take a look at the night through its most obvious prisms.

The Hosting:
Look, I think we were all a bit disappointed when the implosion of the originally planned Brett Ratner/Eddie Murphy Oscars brought about a swift safe about-face that resulting in 8-time host Billy Crystal's instalment as the new host. Last year's show as hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway was a disaster, and in the face of a PR nightmare involving Ratner's use of a gay slur, it made sense to stick as close to a previously tried and tested safe script as possible. The online meme petition to get The Muppets hosting was obviously never going to pan out (although the brief appearance of Kermit and Miss Piggy was marred by an off vocal artist for the frog), but Crystal ended up being not too bad. He was perfectly fine, really, with his collection of dad jokes eliciting minor chuckles and grins without troubling anybody in the audience or in the editing suite upstairs. Jokes about March of the Penguins, however? Umm, okay. You haven't hosted in a while, Billy, but you're still only hosting the 2012 Oscars, not the 2006 ones at the same time.

No matter what he did, I'd still rather his rusty routine over the toxic hosting job that Chris Rock provided - although, in a twist, Chris Rock was actually very funny in his brief presenting gig - several years back. His Nick Nolte impersonation was great, as were several of his smaller moments like that chucklesome "eh!" as the pomp and grandeur of the original score category was played for laughs. I will say that Billy Crystal as Tintin was one of the scariest things I have ever seen! I'm not sure what that film would have looked like with a live action actor in the role, certainly one more age specific, but yikes! Motion capture all the way, please.

Still, nothing can quite compare to the hosting gig that Seth Rogen performed at the Independent Spirit Awards. I admit to a preference to Rogen, but his style was certainly suited the Indies that were held a day earlier. I have only been able to see his opening montage, which you can view below including fantastic reaction shots from Laura Dern and Patricia Clarkson, but his gags about Brett Ratner and Chris Brown were particularly choice. Billy Crystal wouldn't go near that, for obvious reasons.

The Montages:
I jokingly tweeted very early in the evening about "Superfluous movie montage number one!" and, well, I didn't keep tabs on how many there were, but there were thankfully not as many as years past. Or, at least, it didn't feel like there were many because they were all actors sitting in front of a grey screen and saying stuff so they kind of all felt like one big long montage. I'm glad they jettisoned the cumbersome "the year in animation!" or "the history of horror!" reel packages that have bloated ceremonies past. Still, when an ode to classic cinema (or whatever) includes Forrest Gump and Twilight within it's first few images, you know something's wrong. As Justin Bieber's 18-24 demographic have proven time and time again, they don't care about old people and their old movies. Gross, ew.

The Presenters:
Look, I don't want to put too fine of a point on it, but Emma Stone was clearly the greatest presenter in the history of forever. Okay, maybe that's getting a bit hyperbolic, but wasn't she great? Her rendition as an overly-buzzed and ecstatically peppy version of herself was my favourite part of the entire evening. She was one of the few to get genuine guffaws from both crowds I watched it with, and she proved yet again (as in Easy A wasn't proof enough) that she a truly fine comedienne. I'd like to think that when Stone eventually wins an Academy Award that it will be for a comedy role and not for, like say Sandra Bullock two years back, a dramatic turn since comedy is - as least from what I've seen of her work so far - her forte. She was dressed divine, too, I'm tempted to say best dressed but I haven't really looked through enough of the fashions to say anything definite.

It's of little surprise that the six female cast members of Bridesmaids - divided into "Kristen and Maya", "Rose and Melissa" and "The Other Two" - would be given a lesser category to add their zip to and they succeeded. They added some really refreshingly light air to the presentation of the three short film categories later into the proceedings, but I did wonder where Chris O'Dowd was. I like to imagine he was the one yelling "SCORSESE" from the crowd. As Nathaniel Rogers said, these women made 2011's award season so much more entertaining! Get them more plum movie roles as a thank you, Hollywood! Meanwhile, closer to the beginning of the evening, I had no idea what the Double Zs were doing with their backwards head pop, but Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz's whackadoo presenting of best make-up was at least a refreshing change of the pace for two ladies whose award show skills always leave much to be desired. I laughed, that's for sure. Not sure what from, but I laughed nonetheless. Points for Lopez looking like she just escaped from the Xanadu rehab clinic, too!

Unfortunately, they weren't all zesty fun, no sir. Robert Downey Jr's moment is well and truly done, and his routine as an Oscar presenter filming a documentary about presenting was incredibly unfunny. And to drag the magical Gwyneth Paltrow down with him? For shame! Sandra Bullock is too charming to let that weird Chinese/German skit fail too badly, but it was still weird. Melissa Leo was eerily intense, Tom Hanks was a lazily charming snooze as usual and the pairs of Tina Fey/Bradley Cooper and Penelopze Cruz/Owen Wilson were given nothing to do.

Speaking of Bradley Cooper...

The Moustache:
It took me literally one second to go from "ew gross!" upon seeing Bradley Cooper saunter out on stage with a moustache to then admiring it and wanting to make sweet, sweet love to him.

The Presentations:
They were nicely done, but too rushed. I would have liked a bit more focus on the technical categories like years past. Where were the costume sketches or the wonderful editing montages? I found it curious that they got directors to talk about the craft when most of them are just as unknown as the craftsmen (we don't need to see Michael Bay there, either). And as nice as it is to see Meryl Streep and Glenn Close gush over their make-up artists, them doing so meant we didn't get to seem much of the craft at all. As for the actor clips? Well, they were mostly quite good, although Jessica Chastain should have a word with somebody over who chose that scene for her. I'd complain about Meryl Streep being lumped with an awful scene from The Iron Lady, but every scene in that movie is awful so it must have been hard. What I was most happy about was the way they didn't make the entire ceremony about just two movies. Last year they had montages of The King's Speech and The Social Network and nothing else. At least here other films got a look in and some space to be seen.

The Interludes:
The Wizard of Oz test screening skit surely just reminded everyone of how much we need another Christopher Guest film, didn't it? I can't even remember the last film any of these actors were in other than Jennifer Coolidge being even weirder than usual in that weirder than usual Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Eugene Levy is back for "another slice of American Pie", isn't he? Yikes. Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman feel like so long ago (because they were)!

Elsewhere though, a routine by Cirque du Soleil tried desperately to appear as if it had anything to do with "the spirit of the movies" (or, ya know, whatever) but it really just ended up being a nicely executed Cirque du Soleil number. Nothing against them, they're great at what they do, but I would have preferred the original song nominees get to perform rather than some acrobats flying about trying to appear as if they're recreating North by Northwest.

I surprisingly didn't loathe the Will Ferrell/Zach Galifiniakis thing that happened at one point. Two actors who usually turn me way off, but they were kind of endearing in their dorkiness. Also:

Yeah, okay. I can dig.

The Speeches:
How wonderful they were! Not only were they all short - only the documentarian winners were played off, but that surely had more to do with their use of an expletive that wasn't caught by the network censors - but all the actors gave nicely done speeches. Even the behind the scenes personalities who, through no fault other than they're so rarely called upon to talk in public, can flounder about on stage were mostly eloquent. And even when they weren't (like the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo editors) they were endearingly so. Hugo sound editors were great, weren't they? It was a good job of the Academy to, I suspect, give their nominees the memo of trying to keep their speech in theme of cinema memories. That was a nice point that gave the night a real narrative.

I particularly enjoyed Christopher Plummer's who cracked wise and sentimental with his new golden man. His brief but special mention to Max von Sydow was a sweet tip of the hat to a man of equal age who was in the unfortunate place of being up against another 82-year-old legend in a more widely-liked picture.

"You're only two years older than me. Where have you been all my life"

The Winners!:
We'll get to Meryl Streep and The Artist is a bit, but I more or less liked the roster of winners that the Academy gave us. I think it's a bit ludicrous to award Hugo with the Visual Effects and Cinematography Oscars over the competition, but what can you do? At least they didn't screw up and let A Separation leave empty handed! I was definitely happy to see Mark Bridges, a costuming god, take home his first statue, and it was a kick to see Octavia Spencer, Christopher Plummer and Jean Dujardin win awards having commanded respect in such different ways and in such rapidly different amounts of time.

One win I really didn't like was that of The Descendants for Best Adapted Screenplay. I don't say this just because I think the movie of hopeless trash, but because one of the three winner's, the film's director Alexander Payne, has publicly dissed his co-winners, having said their original script wasn't up the scratch. And then, of course, he didn't even let them speak in a speech that included a line about "the first time I won one of these". All class.

I did ridiculously bad in my predictions, but that's because when you have one hunch you then seem to have to alter everything else along with it. I thought Streep would lose, and that they'd then give make-up to Harry Potter! I also new Hugo would win cinematography, but foolishly bet against it whilst not expecting it to win in visual effects. I even more foolishly hoped for a Descendants shut out, which would let Hugo take screenplay and without the need to give Hugo excessive consolation prizes they would give War Horse the two sound categories. And then there were the shorts and the documentary and... well, I didn't even bother to count how many I got right because it was obviously terrible. Lesson: Look at what you predicted several months ago and go with that!

Meryl Streep vs Viola Davis:
And so we get to the most conflicting moment of the event. It really is hard to stay mad at Meryl Streep for winning a third Oscar when she gives such good speech, but The Iron Lady was a terrible movie and it can now claim itself as a two time Academy Award winner! Still, Streep's third win shouldn't have come at the bitter cost of one Viola Davis. It's hard to argue in defense of The Help since I can see what its detractors don't like about it. I just, however, feel like this was a moment prime to make a powerful statement. It would have been the first time two black women ever won two acting Oscars in the same year, and it would have been great to see the fabulous Viola Davis, a hard-working character actress who frequently turned small and even one scene roles into film-defining moments (Doubt, Antwone Fisher, Far from Heaven, World Trade Center) get a chance to be up on stage doing something so few in her position have had the chance to.

The always classy Guy Lodge at InContention has written about the situation far better than I ever could, but it all comes down to this one moment:

Even without the added attraction of doubling the number of non-white Best Actress champs in a single move, Davis's nomination offered the Academy the chance to reward the right actress for the right role at the right time, potentially elevating a career in the process. For her part, Davis played the campaign game with a mixture of good-humored grace and provocative intelligence, somehow pointedly reminding voters of what they stood to gain from rewarding an actress like her without ever sounding entitled to their votes in the process. How could they resist?
For all the talk of Academy producers wanting to get more blockbusters amongst the nominees and subsequent winners circles, the actual voters seem to have no desire whatsoever. The Help was the highest grossing original film of 2011 in America (I think it eventually overtook Bridesmaids, didn't it?), which was a big deal for a film about women, and especially black women. Davis inarguably elevated The Help to what it was (alongside Spencer and Jessica Chastain and some of the other non-nominated actors) and giving her a Best Actress trophy would be a clear and definitive sign from the industry to the studios to make more films of this kind. Unfortunately, they went with an already two-time winner giving a good-but-not-revelatory mimicry performance in a disastrous biopic. It's the Academy's version of going to a fancy restaurant and having "the usual".

It's the one win that left an actual bitter taste of disappointment as I navigated the post-show rubble. What a moment it would have been to see Viola Davis on stage in that stunning green dress and natural hair holding that statue up high alongside her cast mate, making history. Singlehandedly doubling the number of African American winners in the category, too, and giving Davis' career the sort of honour that she had been building towards. People say she will have more opportunities - somebody please adapt Fences, yeah? - but I'm sure they said that about Angela Bassett, too, and now she's playing fifth fiddle to air and explosions in claptrap like This Means War and Green Lantern.

The Artist Winning Best Picture is a Good Thing:
Sure, I was firmly in team Hugo and Moneyball, but think about this for a minute: For all the hullabaloo that was made in recent weeks about The Artist's sweep to victory, how "nobody actually likes it that much" and that it's a bad choice for best picture, The Artist is actually a remarkably out-of-the-box choice for the big award. Think about it: A french (for the first time ever), black and white (first the first time in 18 years), silent (first time in over 80 years) romantic-comedy (the first since Shakespeare in Love) won Hollywood's highest accolade. If The Artist weren't the frontrunner and ultimate winner then it is the exact type of film that people would criticise the Academy for not awarding. It's the same issue I've found with people criticising The Academy's citations for Chicago and the aforementioned Shakespeare in Love. People routinely mock "Oscar bait" and flippantly remark about how they never reward anything outside of their safe wheelhouse, but then when they do they, I suppose, choose the wrong film outside of their wheelhouse. If the choice of The Artist as Best Picture is an "embarrassment" then I think the Academy should just throw their hands in the air and admit defeat. You will never please the never pleased.

The Busy Phillips:
Despite what Busy Phillips' daughter says, Michelle Williams can get nominated all she likes because it means I get to see more of my beloved Busy Phillips! Williams is always portrayed as a solemn wilting petal, but I can't help but imagine these two drinking copious amounts of cocktails and having a riot of a good time. They slay your favourite celebrity BFFs, okay! More Busy! More Busy!

Overall I think they did a nice, pleasant job with this year's Oscars. Respectful is a good word to use, I think, although that Viola Davis loss still stings. It won't rock the boat, but it shouldn't give the detractors too much ammunition with which to hypocritically complain about. What's that? You hate the Oscars and everything they stand for and yet you freely participate in the circus and, in fact, make it more negative and toxic by doing so? Thank you. Thanks a lot. I mean, I think it's really incredibly annoying to have to see people who don't care about it and yet make it their life's mission to show better they are than everybody who does. Let people have their fun, okay! We know it's all a bit silly and that awards really don't mean all that much, but the killjoys will never cease so it's best to just try and tune them out and enjoy the show. In the end though, I think Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy had the best idea out of everyone!


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

As I said elsewhere, I'm obviously the only person who didn't work on Hugo that's thrilled about it winning photography and visual effects, but so be it.

And, like you, I laughed at Cam and J. Lo? What were they doing? (I'm sensing Charlie's Angels) Who knows? But they were having fun and I like that, people are going CRAZY saying how they were trivialising the night, which had be dying with laughter.

And neither here nor there on the Streep drama. Sure, I think Streep is the worse of the five but Viola wasn't my favourite. I just can't bear the "Oscar is RACIST!" comments. But, alas, it is what it is.

TonyFilangeri said...

Agree with you for the most part. Meryl Streep winning... BLAH. Stupid.

But I have to say I'm more upset about the Artist than you are. That's a movie literally NOBODY wants to see... yet it wins Best Picture. I'm sorry, but that doesn't make any sense.

Heather Smith said...

Good overall review. Pretty much agree on everything. While it was awesome to see Meryl win, I'd vastly prefer to see Viola win. I really hope she gets another shots and wins it. She deserved the award this year, but hopefully something else comes along. And I agree, The Iron Lady was a mediocre movie, and Meryl should've won for something great overall.

Ryan T. said...

If The Artist weren't the frontrunner and ultimate winner then it is the exact type of film that people would criticise the Academy for not awarding. It's the same issue I've found with people criticising The Academy's citations for Chicago and the aforementioned Shakespeare in Love. People routinely mock "Oscar bait" and flippantly remark about how they never reward anything outside of their safe wheelhouse, but then when they do they, I suppose, choose the wrong film outside of their wheelhouse. If the choice of The Artist as Best Picture is an "embarrassment" then I think the Academy should just throw their hands in the air and admit defeat. You will never please the never pleased.


No comment. Just wanted to copy and paste this portion of what you wrote because it bears repeated. I'm tempted to print it and frame it to be honest.